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13 June 2014

Scottish government affirms Christians partnering for justice

Scottish government affirms Christians partnering for justice

The Evangelical Alliance has warmly welcomed comments made by Kenny MacAskill, Cabinet Secretary for Justice, last week at two Alliance-sponsored events, at which he affirmed the value of Christians in tackling justice issues in Scotland.

Mr MacAskill, whose portfolio covers areas including the Police, prisons and human trafficking, was warm in his praise of the role of the church in both tackling reoffending and human trafficking in Scotland. Speaking at the What Kind of Nation? – Seven Cities Tour event last Wednesday in Edinburgh, the Cabinet Secretary was invited to comment by a member of the audience on the role of prison chaplains and other Christian ministries working with offenders. In his response Mr MacAskill alluded to the fact that it is often Christians who are willing to work with groups forgotten by the rest of society and where this was done well, was to be welcomed rather than condemned.

A few days later, speaking at the Abolition Scotland conference (organised by the Alliance, International Justice Mission, CARE and Glasgow House of Prayer), Mr MacAskill also outlined the role churches can play in tackling the scourge of human trafficking in Scotland, where one victim is found every four days. In his speech to the conference he said, "I am delighted that your group has gathered here today to consider a response to eradicating trafficking.Faith organisations can provide guidance and support, educate and equip church leadership and communities to work collaboratively in tackling human trafficking." He later added on Twitter, "Pleasure to speak at Abolition Scotland conference. Good people doing great work getting support they need and entitled to from Scottish government."

These two interventions by a Cabinet minister are significant. They are significant because despite what it often said about aggressive secularism it shows that at the coalface, where the work is actually done, the work of the church is valued and recognised. It shows that where we show the compassion of Christ, motivated by the Gospel, this is no barrier to our engagement. And it shows that where lives are transformed it doesn't matter whether other agencies share our faith, they recognise the reality that this is a good thing for society.

This shouldn't be a surprise to us because the Gospel actually works. The life transforming power of the death and resurrection of Jesus has the power to stop reoffending and to heal those who have been trafficked.It has the power to break trafficking gangs and to rebuild communities that have been shattered by crime.

Both these issues also provide us with a challenge in the Church. Will we step up to the mark? Do we care enough about the poor, marginalised and the outcasts in society like those in prison or are we happy to live comfortable, self-focused lives? Will we get our hands dirty and support organisations working with prisoners or those who have been trafficked or will we shirk our responsibility and pretend these things don't exist round here?

Finally it also provides a challenge to those who would seek to remove us from public life. How many food banks are run by hardened secularists motivated by their secularism? How many visits to prisoners, meals for the elderly or how much work to help disadvantaged young people in deprived areas? Of course that is not to say individuals are not motivated by many good factors or to claim it is only the Church that is providing good works, far from it, and we welcome any good works wherever they come from. But to deny the benefits of church-based welfare in tackling our most pressing social needs, is to deny reality in Scotland.

It is this reality that the Scottish government recognises. The reality of faithful service, week in, week out, all across Scotland for little thanks and even less pay. It is the reality of broken lives being slowly transformed as the power of Jesus works through his people. This is the reality of the Scottish Church today. There is opportunity to do more as the Cabinet Secretary's remarks make clear – the question is will we take it?

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